Series: Oh Say Can You See? II
Entry 5: Ancient History—Revisited
Click here to go to the beginning of the Oh Say Can You See II series
I see it regularly on Facebook, read it on blogs by Christian writers: Our country USED to be a Christian nation, the culture USED to be guided by Christian principles. Our Founding Fathers literally built our Constitution and our laws on the content of the Bible. Our leaders through the years judged righteous judgment based on that Constitution and those laws, and our citizens—nourished by the presence of prayer and Bibles in our schools—cherished Doing Things God’s Way. But now there are people who approve of abortion and gay marriage. They have turned from the godly ways of our forefathers, “the way things used to be” 100 years ago and more. So God is going to bring judgment and punishment on the nation in the very near future. “Tribulation” is prophesied by many! UNLESS—we can vote in men who will “restore” those Good Old Days and Good Old Ways.
But if you have read the previous installments of this current blog series, about the abominations of child labor in the USA of Olden/Golden days, there seems to be something askew with the scenario above. Was it any less abominable to destroy the lives of children ALREADY BORN, to steal their health and their future and their hope, than it is to take the life of unborn children now? Was it less abominable for greedy men to do all those things for the sake of the Almighty Dollar than it is for people now to allow abortion for other reasons?
I have proposed that this nation has been under the judgment of God for a whole lot longer than this latest generation, and that it is only His mercy and patience…and His own timing…that kept Him from sending national punishment long ago.
But many folks seem very uncomfortable with this notion. If we can’t look back to a Better Time and yearn for it, and “work” toward “restoring” it, what hope is there for the nation? That’s a scary notion. And so—many “find excuses.” You see, they will say, whatever the issue (child labor, or gross injustice to the Native Americans as chronicled in an earlier series on this blog, or anything else that seems to detract from the noble claims to US national moral superiority in days gone by), OTHER countries have done worse things!
And besides, people “back in the day” couldn’t help it. They were just victims of ignorance in a time that didn’t understand about…man’s inhumanity to man. We need to cut them slack, because they were merely going along with the culture of the time.
Oh. I see.
So Jesus was ignorant to think that people 2000 years ago could understand the principle of the Golden Rule?
And God was ignorant to think that it was “fair” clear back over 500 years before that when He complained about the ancient nation of Israel, in the words of a couple of His prophets below. See, the people of the nation of Israel were just going along with the culture of the time. And besides, the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians and Babylonians were much worse. Surely God could understand that and cut ‘em some slack.
We see in Ezekiel 22 how much slack He cut ‘em.
The word of the Lord came to me:
“Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols…See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow…In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
Or in Amos 2:
This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.
But see, this was the Bible. And all they had back in the 1800s and early 1900s was the King James Version, written clear back in the 1600s. Yeah. That’s it. It was just too hard for some greedy capitalist of the late 1800s to understand these difficult scriptures. It’s not his fault he didn’t understand God’s warning about greed and oppressing the poor.
And it was no doubt just too hard for the average middle class person of the time to go against his “culture” and advocate for the relief of the poor, for child labor laws, for decent working conditions and at least minimal pay for hard work for the poor. See, when the Founding Fathers “built the nation” on Christian principles, they couldn’t be expected to cover ALL the bases. They just picked those principles that those in their ignorant era could understand. I Corinthians 13—Love is kind and all that—that was just too complicated for that time and place in history. Right?
And besides … all the other countries were doing the same “stuff” … and many of them did worse “stuff.”
Yeah. I recognize that principle—teenagers use it all the time.
Mom to eighth grader Johnny: “The principal called today and said you have been bullying younger kids at the bus stop.”
Johnny: “Aw, Mom, ALL the kids my age do that. And besides, Bill and Tom and Joe are much rougher on those younger kids than I am.”
Yeah. I’d buy those lame excuses. Wouldn’t you?
Here is my concern—of COURSE there have been evil nations throughout history. Of COURSE native populations and the poor—and children—have been treated more viciously in some nations than in the US. Ancient Assyria and ancient Rome had terrible reputations for such things. So have many modern brutal dictatorships.
BUT—Americans have claimed that their nation is different. It was founded to be a haven for the oppressed. It was allegedly founded on biblical principles, not on heathen or pagan cultural norms. According to many, it had a destiny to be a light to the world, an example for all to examine and emulate. Back in the day, folks often talked about the US as having “white man’s burden” to take “civilized living” and Christianity to the whole world—through imperialism and missionary work.
Many literally believed the US was going to become the “New Jerusalem,” the “shining city on a hill.” It was going to teach the world what a nation was like “whose God is the Lord.”
So what does the Bible say about teachers?
Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.
Yes, I understand this is talking in context about men in churches being careful about allowing themselves to be viewed as “teachers” by those in the congregation, because a teacher has such influence on others that he deserves greater scrutiny than the average person. And God will hold him accountable. And judge him by a much higher standard.
Some would prefer to think that this is just a very narrow principle, only relevant to church congregations. I suggest to you that there is no reason to think that it doesn’t apply to a nation that would aspire to “teach the world.”
And if so, I would suggest such a nation needs to do a whole lot more soul-searching about what kind of example it has historically set…than most Americans have been willing to do. I have come to realize recently that I have been almost totally ignorant about whole swaths of American history. Not “hidden” history, mind you. Not “dirty little secrets” that were “repented of way back when” and should have been forgiven and forgotten long ago. History that has been right out in the open, documented copiously. Historical facts that have in numerous cases dumbfounded me. How did I miss these things?
I think I missed them the same way most Americans seem to have missed them. As described in an earlier blog entry, I existed in my own little “Time Ghetto.” In my mind, nothing really happened before my birth except for:
- Those facts ground into me briefly by boring school history texts—that primarily focused on names and dates and battles, and glossed over whole broad topics in a chapter at best…and more often a brief paragraph or two.
- Those pseudo-facts, cultural pageantry, and tidbits of trivia spoon fed to me by pop-culture history—magazine covers by Norman Rockwell, movies like Music Man, TV shows like Bonanza, attractions like Disney World’s Main Street USA.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I could only evaluate my country’s present, and speculate on its future, based on my extremely sketchy view of the past. It never occurred to me to look more deeply into any of it.
Until last summer. When on a whim I visited the local Native American museum housed in a home originally owned in the 1830s by Major Ridge of the Cherokee nation. And had many of my illusions shattered. I chronicled what I found in the first section of this Oh Say Can You See? series. And that prompted me to wonder what other swaths of American history I had missed. Since that time I have purchased and read 17 history books (over 6000 pages), am beginning to slog through a dozen more, have read thousands more pages on the Internet…and have realized I have only begun to scratch the surface on numerous realities I never knew existed, or had only dimly heard of. Right in my own country. I have seen a tip of an iceberg, and had no clue how deep it went.
I have begun querying friends about what they may know about some of the things I’ve found, and have discovered most of them have been just as ignorant as I about much of our country’s history. And these are people who are well-educated and well-read in general.
I take the Bible deadly seriously. Paul writes in I Corinthians 10, about the material found in the Old Testament—
1 Corinthians 10:11
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.
If Paul labeled his time as the “culmination of the ages,” how much more relevant is that now? So the words of the ancient prophets have meaning for us today. For some reason, many Americans seem to think that the words only apply to “someone else” …such as their gay neighbor. For instance, they’d like to think that the story of Sodom in the Bible is included just to show how bad homosexual activity is. They seem to have not noticed this scripture below. This is God talking through the prophet Ezekiel. He is referring to Sodom as a “sister” of Israel, He says Israel’s sins are even worse than Sodom’s…but look what He says those most horrible sins were:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
This sounds to me like a land that would brag that it was the most prosperous, most powerful in the world. A land built on rewarding and admiring men who were voraciously greedy and conscienceless, men that built much of their obscene fortunes on the backs of the poor—including poor children.
And a nation that to this day has people claiming that the prosperity actually came instead from the blessings of God bestowed because of their worthiness as His Chosen People, chosen to set the pace for the rest of the world.
Well, they did set the pace for the world, but not necessarily with God’s guidance. How do third world nations scramble now to try to industrialize and catch up and compete with the US? By using the same exact methods as the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, and all the lesser Robber Barons used throughout the era of the “building of America.” Sweatshops, child labor, oppressing the poor. Right—we FINALLY have some laws in place (after 150 years) that limit such things a bit in our country now. But nothing has changed—our industries just go overseas now to those very countries to get cheap labor. So they can continue to offer the Cheapest Prices to American customers.
Chosen people? The Israelites were His Chosen People too. Jerusalem was His city. He was very patient with them. From the founding of the Davidic dynasty to the captivity of Judah in Babylon was about 400 years. But they never faced their own long, miserable history of oppression of the poor and fatherless and widows and strangers either. And all of the factors that were behind those abominations.
The US is reaping what it sowed for a whole lot longer than the current generation. We don’t need to go back to some “Good Old Days.”
They never existed. The aspirations of the Founding Fathers were, in many cases, admirable. Perhaps this nation could have become that shining city if it would have actually followed through on those, as well as improving upon them all along. Or if it could have actually paid attention to the concerns, and followed the examples, of some of its most noble and selfless and humanitarian citizens. There were many of those, and they were indeed bright spots in the darkness of much of our history.
But the system in place throughout much of our history did its very best to quench those lights and those voices.
The Book of Revelation, written close to 2000 years ago, describes Satan who “deceives the whole world.” I think many patriotic citizens would like to believe that this might be true elsewhere, but wasn’t true until recently in “God’s Country.” They are wrong. No, he hasn’t deceived every single person. God has had a remnant in every age, around the world and in our own country, who truly had the Bible as their guide to life, who have been led by the Holy Spirit to live out the Golden Rule and the Two Great Commandments and the I Corinthians 13 “Love Chapter” of the Bible. There have also been people throughout our history who knew little or nothing of God, but who had within themselves even just basic human decency as a result of being made in God’s image. They have made a difference too.
It is all of these who have been like the “ten righteous” whose presence could have kept Sodom from being destroyed in the story of Abraham and Lot in Genesis.
If you are willing to allow me to share more of what I have learned about the America outside my own Time Ghetto, to see what reality was really like, and to meet some of that remnant, then I invite you to move on with me to the next section of the Oh Say Can You See? series:
Oh Say Can You See? III: Intro: Terrorism on American Soil!